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Bush Administration's Immigration Prosecutions Soar
Total of All Federal Filings Reaches New High

Figure 1. Immigration prosecutions.
(click for larger image)

With an unusually large burst of new immigration prosecutions in the last months of FY 2008, the annual number of such cases brought in the nation's federal courts has more than quadrupled during the eight years of the Bush administration, according to the latest Justice Department data obtained by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC).

The most recent month's total of 11,454 immigration prosecutions in September 2008 represents an increase of over seven hundred percent from the same month seven years ago (September 2001). See Figure 1.

Figure 2. All prosecutions.
(click for larger image)

This massive increase in yearly immigration filings means that the total number of all kinds of prosecutions brought by the federal government reached their all-time high last year of 155,694. By comparison, there were 82,071 filings in FY 1998 and 60,421 in FY 1988. See Figure 2.

The extraordinarily abrupt shift in government enforcement policy is highlighted by the following data. During the first year of President Bush's first term (FY 2001), the proportion of cases categorized as involving immigration violations was 18% of federal filings -- similar to the proportion in the final years of the Clinton administration. By FY 2004, the first year of Bush's second term, that proportion had increased to over 31%. In the just-ended FY 2008, however, immigration filings jumped to 51% of the total. See Figure 3.

Figure 3. Bush Administration prosecutions categorized as immigration.
(click for larger image)

As in recent years, the five federal districts with the largest proportion of immigration prosecutions in FY 2008 were strung out along the border with Mexico. In Texas South (Houston), Arizona (Phoenix), New Mexico (Albuquerque), Texas West (San Antonio) and California South (San Diego), for example, immigration matters made up 73.7% or more of all those charged with a federal crime. But the next five federal districts had a much lower proportion of such cases and were more scattered. They included Arkansas West (Fort Smith), Washington East (Spokane), Oregon (Portland), California Central (Los Angeles) and Colorado (Denver). In this second tier, immigration matters made up 33.2% or less of all federal prosecutions.

Figure 4. Districts with Highest Proportion of Immigration Cases, FY 2008.
(click for details)

About the Data

The year- by-year enforcement information is based on the timely month-by-month records of individual cases that the Justice Department has provided TRAC as a result of suits under the Freedom of Information Act. The decisions about how each of these cases is classified are made by the offices of the 90-plus US attorneys.

Hidden in this unusual surge in the numbers of both overall and immigration prosecutions, however, are areas of decline:

  • White-collar crime prosecutions, for example, are down by almost 15% from what they were in the last year of President Clinton's administration, 8,108 in FY 2008 compared with 9,532 in FY 2000.
  • Individual narcotic filings also have slumped during the Bush years. While there were modest annual increases at first, the data show that for whole period the prosecution of drug violators were off by almost 20%; down to 26,336 in FY 2008 from 32,753 in FY 2001.
  • The shifts in the cases the government said were related to terrorism or internal security matters were much more dramatic. From FY 2001 to FY 2002 — the year following the events of 9/11 — there was a highly unusual ten-fold increase in prosecutions, from 115 to 1,208. Since then such prosecution have steadily declined with the most recent total of 424 being only about one third of what it was in the year of the 9/11 high.

Figure 5. FBI prosecutions.
(click for larger image)

In addition to categorizing federal prosecutions in regard to their broad subject matter, the U.S. Attorneys also determine the investigative agency that played the leading role in each case. Here, one key finding was that prosecutions attributed to the FBI have declined during every year but the last of the Bush Administration — 14,357 in FY 2008 from 18,994 in FY 2001. See Figure 5.

This drop of almost a quarter has been attributed to the decision of Bush officials to assign a significant number of agents — who previously had been investigating white collar criminals, corrupt officials and civil rights violators — to various highly classified responsibilities aimed at fighting terrorism.

Report Date: January 12, 2009
Copyright 2009, TRAC Reports, Inc.

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